Managed a ticket to uber-smooth uber-70s&80's Steely Dan in concert (yes they're still around, but who isn't? [Amy Winehouse?]) tonight in Perth. They were supported by the brilliant Steve Winwood (speaking of not being able to kill someone with a stick). And no, my shaper-ly body did not fit into the Steely Dan t-shirt (c.f. Show Biz Kids - Countdown to Ecstasy) on sale at the merchandise store out the front.
Chalk and Cheese. Not the musicians, all brilliant, not a doubt. I'm talking about the stagecraft and the lighting difference between Winwood and Steely Dan.
Steve's was a vanilla show. Minimalist lighting effects, and I was sitting behind the lighting effects guy so I can verify that it was all done manually. It was a late change of venue, and I think that basically Stevie was shafted by the promoters and knew it. He came on 15mins late and left after just over an hour. No encore. Didn't play Back in the High Life. And a heap of others obviously. He did the expected stuff from Spencer Davis Group, from Traffic… Gimme Some Lovin', I'm A Man, etc. Thankfully he played Can't Find My Way Home, one of my favorite songs of all time - blogged about previously I think.
But it was just so disappointing to see how poorly that part of the show was done. Was it the promoter's fault, did they concentrate their effort and money on Steely Dan? I know Winwood was not part of the entire tour, but that is no reason not to give him the same level of support as the main group. Jeeze, the guy is a legend! Or was it just the bare bones way that he likes to play it?
Be that as it may, Steely Dan were as slick and shiny as you'd expect a stainless steel dildo (c.f. Naked Lunch, William S. Burroughs) to be after reeling in all these years. Four in the brass-section, three (black, female) backing vocalists. Drummer high on a plinth. Becker resting his ample butt on a high stool. Fagen in dark glasses, a pronounced hunch which seemed to change sides, an off-green jacket, laying his head back in a leer, looking as much like a frog as any human could possible manage. A smarmy arrogant frog. But that is all part of the act of course. He was brilliant.
As opposed to the Windwood show, here the lighting was completely computer controlled, mutli-coloured spots came up on each band member as they played a prominent part, on the backing vocalists as they sang, on Becker as he did a solo, on Jim Herrington the other guitarist, on the drummer (amazing effect for him). Man, smooth. Lots of colors and patterns and blasts of blazing white in your eyes. The lighting guy sat back and just listened, let the computer do it all. Occasionally got up and stretched, had a sip of water.
I could not imagine a greater contrast to Winwood's set. OK it wasn't a vast extravaganza like a Flaming Lips or Pink Floyd show, but it was very choreographed - pre-programmed the cynical people would say. But that is Fagen and Becker's music. Tight, orchestrated. I couldn't help but think of the skill, practice and dedication required of concert musicians in order to be this note (almost) perfect and yet not be one the rich-dudes up on stage here.
I remember first hearing their song Bodhisatava years ago and being amazed at how controlled the lead guitar was, fast but accurate and obviously well rehearsed. (Was it Larry Carlton playing guitar that song?) I was used to enjoy letting loose myself on my guitar lead breaks like (well sorta) Clapton, just blasting away in the BB King blues box, not having to move my fingers too much, hopeful all songs were in Cmaj or Emaj. Never play it the same way twice was the jazz/blues ethos in those days. Especially when, like me, you couldn't play it the same way again if you wanted to…
Set List: Aja, Black Friday, Hey Nineteen, Time Out Of Mind, Show Biz Kids, Bodhitsava, Papa Dont Take No Mess (? huh? - not my listing), Do It Again, Dirty Work (great song!), Josie, Peg, My Old School, Reelin' In The Years - encore - Kid Charlemagne
When I was first
Well I did not think the girl (she heard that as "that girls")
Could be so cruel
And I'm never going back
To my old school
Perth audiences. Man. Attack of the music zombies. Only one person stood up to dance. In the 3/4 filled auditorium (a swimming pool!) I think that other than me there two others nodding their heads, and one of them may have been nodding off. The solid guy next to me (business class bodies in economy class seats) took off his fluoro-orange work jacket, crossed his arms and sat there as if set in concrete. My seat-rocking, toe tapping and thigh drumming and singing along didn't seem to bother him, but they didn't seem to please him either. I thought he might be there as someone's bouncer. WTF?
The backing singers tried to encourage the audience to clap during the guitar solo of Reeling the Years, you know the first bit, jazzy and counterpoint sort of thing, but only four people responded positively and that included myself and two of my friends. The rest remained immobile (in both body and mind one might think). Maybe they were clapping on the inside.
No wonder Perth has trouble getting concerts and big name artists.
The show was terrific, the songs kick-ass, brassy and rocking (as was most of Windwood's set), the band were bopping away (but never away from their predetermined spotlights) , the girls gorgeous, and… everybody sat there like trolls in the sunlight.
p.s. From Donald Fagen's website (donaldfagen.com, duh!)
"A Steely Dan concert is akin to witnessing the passage of a single multiplex vehicle the size of a motorcade or convoy, its various segments comprising limousines, ice-cream wagons, hearses, lunch-carts, ambulances, black marias, and motorcycle outriders, all of it Rolls-grade and lacquered like a tropical beetle. The horns glint, as it rolls majestically past, splendid, a thing of legend, and utterly peculiar unto itself."
-- William Gibson
p.p.s. From someone who didn't enjoy the show (sounds pretty much like this tour) quite as much.
STEELY DAN A BITTER PILL AT THE HALLI
Matt Jason Blowitz
Steely Dan, a band that used to be good in the 70s, brought their nineteen-piece band of bored studio professionals to the Halliburton Amphitheater on Tuesday night and offered their obese, geriatric boomer fans the standard mix of "jazzy" hits and "deep cuts". While Walter [sic] Fagan [sic] did his annoying Ray Charles routine behind the keyboard, partner Don [sic] Becker leaned on his amplifier and played the occasional "bluesy" solo, leaving most of the guitar chores to crack session professional Jim Herringbone [sic]. In their heyday, the group (now supplemented by three female backup singers and a horn section) were known as obsessive perfectionists who spent millions of dollars in the recording studio torturing the many guitarists who apparently weren't "yacht-smooth" enough to complete the classic solos on their quirky, jazz-inflected songs.
If you connected electric wires to my testicles, I guess I'd have to confess that the "band" was pretty tight. On the other hand, Fagan [sic] and Becker seemed to be just going through the motions in order to continue to maintain their expensive yuppie lifestyles while the rest of us are left to fight off terrorists and the federal government, suffer the horrors of climate change or just starve to death because of Obama's economy. [sick tea-party prick]
Every single person in the audience had cause to be disappointed about something or other. Becker and Fogelberg [sic] refused to play the correct imagined set list that each ticket buyer had spent their life savings to hear. They played too many, and yet, not enough of the old nostalgic hits. Casual fans spent the entire show running back and forth to the porti-potties to avoid hearing any music they hadn't heard thousands of times before, while hardcore fans were again deprived of hearing the obscure tracks the sadistic duo played just two nights ago at the Raytheon Pavillion in Podunk Hollow. As the crowd filed out, many dissatisfied concert goers were heard complaining about the sound, the venue, the weather, the tour routing plan, and the fact that Beckstein [sic] and Fagan [sic] are still alive and working after more than forty years in the music business. And if anyone knows why the band played the theme from "Taxi Driver" at the end of the show, please clue me in.
(Blowitz [sic] may even be a faked-up name as well. E@L)